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Cass Elliot

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Other names
Mama Cass


Owen Vanessa Elliot



PopFolk rock

Cass Elliot

Leah Kunkel (sister)

Years active

Cass Elliot httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonscc

Full Name
Ellen Naomi Cohen

September 19, 1941 (
Baltimore, Maryland, United States

July 29, 1974, London, United Kingdom

Music groups
The Mamas & the Papas, The Big 3, The Mugwumps (1964 – 1965)

Donald von Weidenman (m. 1971–1972), Jim Hendricks (m. 1963–1969)

Similar People
Michelle Phillips, John Phillips, Denny Doherty, Owen Vanessa Elliot, Jim Hendricks

The death of mama cass elliot

Cass Elliot (born Ellen Naomi Cohen; September 19, 1941 – July 29, 1974), also known as Mama Cass, was an American singer and actress, best known as a member of the Mamas & the Papas. After the group broke up, she released five solo albums. In 1998, Elliot, John Phillips, Denny Doherty, and Michelle Phillips were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for their work as the Mamas & the Papas.


Cass Elliot Cass Elliot Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Youtube com cass elliot interview 15 july 1974

Early life

Cass Elliot Mama Cass Elliot

Ellen Naomi Cohen was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of Philip Cohen (d: 1962) and his wife Bess (née Levine, 1915–1964). Both her parents were the children of Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire. Elliot's family was subject to significant financial stresses and uncertainties during her childhood years. Her father, involved in several business ventures throughout his life, ultimately succeeded through the development of a lunch wagon business in Baltimore, providing meals to construction workers. Her mother was a trained nurse. Elliot had a brother Joseph and a younger sister Leah, professionally known as Leah Kunkel, who also became a singer and recording artist, as a member of the Coyote Sisters and also as a solo artist and background vocalist. Elliot's early life was spent with her family in Alexandria, Virginia, before the family moved to Baltimore, when Elliot was fifteen, and where they had briefly lived at the time of Elliot's birth.

Cass Elliot Andy Warhol meets Mama Cass Music The Guardian

Elliot adopted the name "Cass" in high school, possibly borrowing it from actress Peggy Cass, as Denny Doherty tells it. She assumed the surname Elliot some time later, in memory of a friend who had died. While in Alexandria, Virginia, Elliot attended George Washington High School, which Jim Morrison of the Doors also attended. When Elliot's family returned to Baltimore, she attended Forest Park High School.

Cass Elliot Cass Elliot

While attending Forest Park High School, Elliot became interested in acting. She won a small part in the play The Boy Friend, a summer stock production at the Hilltop Theatre in Owings Mills, Maryland. She left high school shortly before graduation and moved to New York City to further her acting career (as recounted in the lyrics to "Creeque Alley").

Early career

After leaving high school to pursue an entertainment career in New York, Elliot toured in the musical The Music Man but lost the part of Miss Marmelstein in I Can Get It for You Wholesale to Barbra Streisand in 1962. Elliot would sometimes sing while working as a cloakroom attendant at The Showplace in Greenwich Village, but she did not pursue a singing career until she moved to the Washington, D.C. area to attend American University (not Swarthmore College, as mentioned in the biographical song "Creeque Alley").

America's folk music scene was on the rise when Elliot met banjoist and singer Tim Rose and singer John Brown, and the three began performing as the Triumvirate. In 1963, James Hendricks replaced Brown, and the trio was renamed the Big 3. Elliot's first recording with the Big 3 was "Winkin', Blinkin' and Nod", released by FM Records in 1963. In 1964, the group appeared on an "open mic" night at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village, billed as "Cass Elliot and the Big 3", followed onstage by folk singer Jim Fosso and bluegrass banjoist Eric Weissberg (who became famous eight years later for performing "Dueling Banjos" on the soundtrack for Deliverance (1972)).

Tim Rose left the Big 3 in 1964, and Elliot and Hendricks teamed with Canadians Zal Yanovsky and Denny Doherty to form the Mugwumps. This group lasted eight months, after which Cass performed as a solo act for a while. In the meantime, Yanovsky and John Sebastian co-founded the Lovin' Spoonful, while Doherty joined the New Journeymen, a group that also included John Phillips and his wife Michelle. In 1965, Doherty persuaded Phillips that Elliot should join the group, which she did while she and the group members were vacationing in the Virgin Islands.

A popular legend about Elliot is that her vocal range was improved by three notes after she was hit on the head by some copper tubing while walking through a construction site behind the bar where the New Journeymen were playing in the Virgin Islands. Elliot confirmed the story in a 1968 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, saying,

It's true, I did get hit on the head by a pipe that fell down and my range was increased by three notes. They were tearing this club apart in the islands, revamping it, putting in a dance floor. Workmen dropped a thin metal plumbing pipe and it hit me on the head and knocked me to the ground. I had a concussion and went to the hospital. I had a bad headache for about two weeks and all of a sudden I was singing higher. It's true. Honest to God.

However, friends later said that the pipe story was a less embarrassing explanation for why John Phillips had kept her out of the group for so long, the real reason being that he considered her too heavy.

The Mamas & the Papas

With two female members, the New Journeymen needed a new name. According to Doherty, Elliot had the inspiration for the band's new name; as written on his website:

We're all just lying around vegging out watching TV and discussing names for the group. The New Journeymen was not a handle that was going to hang on this outfit. John was pushing for the Magic Cyrcle. Eech, but none of us could come up with anything better, then we switch the channel and, hey, it's the Hells Angels on the Carson show... And the first thing we hear is: "Now hold on there, Hoss. Some people call our women cheap, but we just call them our Mamas." Cass jumped up: "Yeah! I want to be a Mama." And Michelle is going: "We're the Mamas! We're the Mamas!" OK. I look at John. He's looking at me going: "The Papas?" Problem solved. A toast! To the Mamas and the Papas. Well, after many, many toasts, Cass and John are passed out."

Doherty also said that the occasion marked the beginning of his affair with Michelle Phillips. Elliot was in love with Doherty and was displeased when he told her of the affair. Doherty has said that Elliot once proposed to him, but that he was so stoned at the time that he could not even respond.

Elliot was known for her sense of humor and optimism, and was considered by some to be the most charismatic member of the group. Her powerful, distinctive voice was a major factor in their success. She is best remembered for her vocals on the group's hits "California Dreamin'", "Monday, Monday", "Words of Love", and the solo "Dream a Little Dream of Me", which the group recorded in 1968 after learning about the death of Fabian Andre, one of the men who co-wrote it, whom Michelle Phillips had met years earlier. Elliot's version is noteworthy for its contemplative pace, whereas almost all earlier recordings of "Dream a Little Dream of Me" (including one by Nat King Cole and another by Ozzie Nelson) had been up-tempo versions—the song having been written in 1931 as a dance tune.

The Mamas & the Papas continued to record to meet the terms of their record contract. Their final album was released in 1971.

Solo career

After the breakup of the Mamas & the Papas, Elliot embarked on a solo singing career. Her most successful recording during this period was 1968's "Dream a Little Dream of Me" from her solo album of the same name, released by Dunhill Records, though it had originally been released earlier that year on the album The Papas & the Mamas Presented By The Mamas and the Papas.

Las Vegas incident

In October 1968, Elliot made her live solo debut headlining in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace, scheduled for a three-week engagement at $40,000 per week (US$275,483 in 2016 dollars), with two shows per night. Elliot went on a six-month long crash diet before the show, losing 100 of her 300 pounds. According to Elliot, the weight loss led to a stomach ulcer and throat problems, which she treated by drinking milk and cream (and regaining 50 pounds in the process).

A nervous Elliot was confined to her bed for three weeks before the first performance, as the musical director, band, and production supervisor attempted to put together a show in her absence. She was scheduled to rehearse for a full three days before the show opened, but she managed to get through only part of one run-through with the band before saying that she was losing her voice. She skipped the remainder of rehearsals and drank tea and lemon, hoping to recover and pull herself together for opening night.

An audience of 950 people filled the Circus Maximus theatre at Caesars Palace on the evening of Wednesday October 16, including Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Jimi Hendrix. Joan Baez, Liza Minnelli, and Mia Farrow had sent flowers to Elliot's dressing room. But backstage, a shivering Elliot had developed a raging fever. Friends urged her manager to cancel the show, but she felt it was too important and insisted on performing. Sick and having barely rehearsed, Elliot began to fall apart during the course of her first performance: her voice was weak and barely audible, and the large crowd was unsympathetic, despite the celebrity well-wishers. At the end of the show, Elliot returned to the stage to apologize to the audience, stating, "This is the first night, and it will get better". She then sang "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and left the stage as the audience applauded half-heartedly. She returned later that night to perform the second show, but her voice was worse, and many of the audience noisily walked out.

Reviews were harsh. Esquire magazine called the show "a disaster" that was "heroic in proportion, epic in scope." The Los Angeles Free Press called the show "an embarrassing drag." Newsweek compared the show to the Titanic disaster: "Like some great ocean liner embarking on an ill-fated maiden voyage, Mama Cass slid down the ways and sank to the bottom." The show closed after only one night, and Elliot flew back to Los Angeles for what was described as "a tonsillectomy."

Substance abuse

Within hours of the end of Elliot's Las Vegas concert, rumors began to spread that she had been taking drugs during the weeks leading up to it. Eddi Fiegel wrote in the biography Dream a Little Dream of Me that Elliot later admitted to a boyfriend that she had shot heroin immediately before going on stage. Embarrassed by the debacle, Elliot plunged into a deep depression.

David Crosby published a memoir in 1988, saying the following about his use of heroin with Elliot:

"It was always the bad drug, always the worst. It got a little more open around the time that Cass and I were doing it, but it wasn't something you told people [about]. It wasn't anything you bragged about, you know. ... Me and Cass Elliot were closet junk takers and used to get loaded with each other a lot. We loved London because there was pharmaceutical heroin available in drugstores [there]. ... Government [of the United Kingdom] dope, in these injectable tablets that you crushed and dissolved in order to shoot them. Me and Cass used to just mash them up and snort the powder. ... Cass took lots of pills, usually from the opiate family: Dilaudid, Demerol, Percodan, downers of all sorts, and we did a lot of coke together".

Later work

Elliot appeared in two television variety specials: The Mama Cass Television Show (ABC, 1969) and Don't Call Me Mama Anymore (CBS, 1973). She was a regular guest on TV talk shows and variety shows in the early 1970s, including The Mike Douglas Show, The Andy Williams Show, Hollywood Squares, The Johnny Cash Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and The Carol Burnett Show, and was a guest panelist for a week on the game show Match Game '73. She guest-hosted for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and appeared as a guest on the show 13 other times. She also appeared on and co-hosted The Music Scene on ABC and was featured on the first The Midnight Special on NBC.

She performed the title song "The Good Times Are Comin'" during the opening sequence of the 1970 film Monte Walsh, starring Lee Marvin and Jack Palance. In 1972, she made three appearances on the variety series The Julie Andrews Hour. Her final appearance on the show was the Christmas installment that aired on Wednesday, December 20, 1972. In December 1978, four years after Elliot's death, the episode was rebroadcast on syndicated stations as a Christmas special called Merry Christmas With Love, Julie. However, all of Elliot's solos were deleted from the syndicated prints. In 2009, a complete videotape of The Julie Andrews Hour Christmas Show was donated to The Paley Center For Media in New York, with all of Elliot's numbers intact.

In 1973, Elliot performed in Saga of Sonora, a TV music-comedy-western special with Jill St. John, Vince Edwards, Zero Mostel, and Lesley Ann Warren.

She also sang the jingle "Hurry on down to Hardee's, where the burgers are charco-broiled" for Hardee's fast-food advertisements.

Throughout the early 1970s, Elliot continued her acting career, as well. She had a featured role in the movie Pufnstuf (1970) and made guest appearances on TV's The New Scooby-Doo Movies, Young Dr. Kildare, Love, American Style, and The Red Skelton Show, among others.

In 1973, Elliot hired as her manager Allan Carr, who was also managing the careers of Tony Curtis, Ann-Margret, and Peter Sellers. Carr felt Elliot needed to leave pop and rock music altogether and head into the cabaret circuit, so a show was put together comprising old standards along with a few new songs written for her by friends. The act included Elliot and two male singers who served as backing singers and sidekicks during the musical numbers. The title of the show was Don't Call Me Mama Anymore, named after one of the songs written by Elliot's friend Earle Brown. The song was born out of Elliot's frustration with being identified as "Mama Cass".

The show debuted in Pittsburgh on February 9, 1973. Elliot felt ready to tackle Las Vegas once again and premiered at the Flamingo. This time, she received rave reviews. The Las Vegas Sun wrote, "Cass Elliot, making a strong point that she is no longer Mama Cass, has a good act serving notice that she is here to stay. The audience was with her all the way... no empty seats anywhere." She then took her act to higher-echelon casinos and swankier nightclubs in cities throughout the country.

Personal life

Elliot was married twice, the first time in 1963 to James Hendricks, her groupmate in the Big 3 and the Mugwumps. This was reportedly a platonic arrangement to assist him in avoiding being drafted into the army during the Vietnam War; the marriage reportedly was never consummated and was annulled in 1968. In 1971, Elliot married journalist Donald von Wiedenman, heir to a Bavarian barony. Their marriage ended in divorce after a few months.

Elliot gave birth to daughter Owen Vanessa Elliot on April 26, 1967. She never publicly identified the father, but many years later, Michelle Phillips helped Owen locate her biological father. After Elliot's death, her younger sister, Leah Kunkel (then married to Los Angeles-based session drummer Russ Kunkel), received custody of Owen, then seven years old, and raised her along with her own son, Nathaniel. Owen grew up to become a singer as well and toured with Beach Boys member Al Jardine.


On April 22, 1974, Elliot collapsed in the Burbank, California television studio of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson immediately before her scheduled appearance on the show. She was treated at a hospital and released, then dismissed the incident in interviews, including one on the American television talk show The Mike Douglas Show, as simple exhaustion.

In July 1974, Elliot performed two weeks of concerts as a solo performer at the London Palladium. Many claimed that all of these shows were sold out, but she was often playing to a less-than-full house after the earliest dates. She made an international call to Michelle Phillips after the final concert on July 28. Phillips said later that Elliot sounded elated that she had received standing ovations each night.

She may have retired for the evening immediately after this telephone conversation, but Debbie Reynolds claimed in her 2013 book Unsinkable: A Memoir that she and her children Carrie Fisher and Todd Fisher saw Elliot attend a party that night at the London home of Mick Jagger. Reynolds added that some guests at the party used cocaine and other hard drugs on an upper floor of the home to which Reynolds made sure her children, ages 17 and 16, did not go. Jagger told Reynolds about the situation upstairs, adding that if her children stayed on the ground floor, they would be safe. Because neither Reynolds nor her children saw who partook of the free drugs, Elliot's presence at the party may be inconsequential in understanding her death. Reynolds did notice that when Elliot left the party saying she was headed to the place where she was staying, she was not accompanied by anyone, despite the fact that Reynolds saw other partygoers, including her son Todd, become intimate with strangers and leave the building with each other.

That night, Elliot, age 32, died in her sleep at the London flat where she was staying. According to forensic pathologist Keith Simpson who conducted her autopsy, her death was due to "heart failure due to fatty myocardial degeneration due to obesity." A drug screen that was part of the forensic autopsy revealed there were no drugs in her system. Elliot died in Flat 12, 9 Curzon Place (later Curzon Square), Shepherd Market, Mayfair, London, which was on loan from singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson. Four years later, the Who's drummer Keith Moon died in the same room, also aged 32 years.

The Associated Press quoted pathologist Simpson as saying the following at an August 5 inquest at Westminster Coroner's Court: "She weighed twice as much as she should have. One of her heart muscles had turned to fat." Elliot was buried in Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

An oft-repeated urban legend is that Elliot choked to death on a ham sandwich. The story spread soon after the discovery of her body and was based on speculation in the initial media coverage. A 2014 article in the publication Haaretz identified the person who started the false rumor as follows: "Unfortunately, the first doctor [in London] who examined her speculated to the press about the cause of death, and that’s the version that stuck." An autopsy had not been performed when the doctor commented, and London police told reporters that a partially eaten sandwich found in her room might have been relevant to the cause of death. The post-mortem examination found that Elliot had died of heart failure, and no food was present in her windpipe, yet the false story has persisted ever since.

The Big 3

  • 1963: The Big 3
  • 1964: Live at the Recording Studio
  • The Mugwumps

  • 1965: The Mugwumps
  • The Mamas and the Papas

  • 1966: If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
  • 1966: The Mamas & the Papas
  • 1967: The Mamas and the Papas Deliver
  • 1968: The Papas & The Mamas
  • 1970: Monterey Pop Festival (Live) (recorded in 1967)
  • 1971: People Like Us
  • Solo

    "-" indicates the album did not chart or was not released in that territory.


  • 1996: Beautiful Thing (soundtrack with Mama Cass and the Mamas and the Papas)
  • References

    Cass Elliot Wikipedia

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